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Democrats, Republicans take to airwaves as 'sequester' approaches

February 24, 2013|By Paul West

WASHINGTON -- Both sides in Washington’s budget stalemate took to the airwaves Sunday, with Republican Sen. John McCain calling on President Obama to convene a summit meeting to work out an agreement.

Democrats fanned out on the TV talk shows with renewed warnings of severe economic damage from spending cuts due to begin on Friday. Republicans, meantime, maintained that the president needs to show more leadership in breaking the deadlock.

“I won’t put all the blame on the president of the United States, but the president leads,” McCain, who lost the 2008 election to Obama, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The president should be calling us over somewhere — Camp David, the White House, somewhere — and sitting us down and trying to avert these cuts.”

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire noted that Obama had assured the country, during a presidential debate last fall, that the cuts “will not happen.”  She said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “it's time for him to lead this effort as the commander in chief of this country.”

Administration officials reject the idea that Obama hasn’t reached out to Republican lawmakers, pointing out that he spoke by phone with GOP leaders last week.

With no deal in sight, the $85-billion across-the-board cuts, known as a sequester, are expected to start taking effect, as required by law, on March 1. Fully half will hit the military, one of the reasons that Democrats initially pushed the plan, believing — perhaps incorrectly — that defense-minded Republicans would never allow the cuts to take effect.

McCain said the impact of the cuts on members of the armed services and their families was “unconscionable because they deserve a predictable life in the military.” Referring to other, previously approved military spending reductions, McCain said, “We are already cutting defense. I can find lots of waste and mismanagement. But by God, across-the-board cuts are the worst and most cowardly way to approach this situation.”

Republicans have continued to resist Obama’s demand that increased taxes be part of any deal to avert the cuts.

The White House, continuing a campaign to focus blame on the GOP, dispatched Cabinet secretaries to the Sunday network-TV news programs to underscore Obama’s argument that the cuts would damage both the economy and the nation’s defense.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on CNN, said the cuts would mean air travel delays because air controllers, along with other federal employees, would be furloughed to achieve some $600 million in mandated cuts at the Federal Aviation Administration. The former Republican congressman from Illinois, who is about to leave his Cabinet job, said the cuts were mandated by the budget deal approved by Congress in 2011 and signed into law by Obama.  “This is not stuff that we just decided to make up,” he said.

“Safety will not be compromised,” LaHood also said, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But we will have to work with the airlines in slowing planes down.” 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs and that 70,000 children could be cut from Head Start programs because of the reduction in federal education aid to the states. As local school districts begin planning for next year, he said on CBS, “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”

The nation’s governors, in town for their annual winter meeting, have now been drawn into the debate.  Unlike the federal government, most states are required to balance their budgets on an annual basis, which has forced even some of the most conservative Republican governors to agree to tax increases this year. On Saturday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell , a potential GOP presidential candidate, won legislative approval of a transportation plan that includes new taxes on motor fuels and a sales tax hike.

Appearing with McDonnell on CBS, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona did not rule out higher taxes as part of a federal budget deal in Washington.

“We don’t like increasing taxes but, you know, we know we have to be pragmatic. We know there has to be some type of compromise. But dang it, they need to get the job done. They don’t need to leave the public out there hanging,” she said.

But Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, also a prospective 2016 GOP presidential candidate, rejected the need for increased taxes.

“My advice to the president is, ‘Stop the campaigning, stop sending out your cabinet secretaries to scare the American people. Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of governing,’ ” Jindal said on NBC.

paul.west@latimes.com

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